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Priest drives soul of Chi-Town Jazz Fest


Featuring the John Moulder Quintet and other artists

♦ 7 pm. to midnight March 13

♦ The Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct.

♦ Tickets, $15;

♦ (312) 360-0234;

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If there’s one word that sums up the dual vocations of John Moulder, it is this: soul.

As a priest at St. Gregory the Great on North Paulina Street, it’s what the North Shore native strives to nourish and save.

As a top-tier jazz guitarist and composer, it’s a part of what he strives to convey in his music — as he will March 13 during the fourth annual Chi-Town Jazz Festival, which he founded in 2010. A portion of the proceeds benefit local hunger relief via Catholic Charities and the Care for Real food pantry in Edgewater.

“I can see why people would see it as a double life or a double vocation or that type of thing,” Moulder, 51, said a day before gigging with three other polished pros at the Jazz Showcase on South Plymouth Court. “I’ve said this before, but I truly believe it: It just happened that I have this mix of qualities that comes from what I see as my center, my interior, and it flows out and has taken form in these two various ways, which admittedly are unusual to have come together.”

His longtime friend and musical cohort, bassist Paul Gray (who formerly toured internationally with the Ramsey Lewis Trio, and leads one of his own), calls Moulder’s occupational situation “pretty darn uncommon.”

Most jazz performers at his level, Gray says, typically don’t have day jobs in unrelated fields. Besides touring and recording, Gray has been in academia for decades. Many of his colleagues have followed similar tracks.

Moulder teaches as well — at Northwestern, Benedictine and Roosevelt universities. But ministering to his St. Gregory flock and other priestly duties, he said, exist in harmony with rather than apart from his artistic pursuits.

“I see them as integrated in me.”

Sometimes, when he’s in the moment and riffing onstage, the secular and sacred merge in a profound way.

“It’s not every time. But there are moments where you hit points where you feel a sense of transcendence — a sense of unity — with what you’re immersed in… I think anytime we’re immersed deeply in something, we maybe hit upon what’s been described as a flow experience, where you’re deeply connected or plugged in.”

He certainly appeared to achieve “flow” during a late February performance at the Showcase with Gray, drummer Paul Wertico and pianist Jim Trumpeter. His eyes shut tight, head turned skyward and lips mimicking the sounds of his electric and acoustic axes, Moulder often appeared to be out-of-body and reaching for something beyond himself.

To call the state a religious experience might be stretching it. However, Moulder said, “I definitely think there are lines of connection.”

What about the humility a man of the cloth is expected to exhibit — isn’t that antithetical to a life that’s frequently spent as the center of attention onstage?

“I think that’s always a tricky thing,” Moulder said, “but it can be in any sphere of life. When you’re in various positions in the church, you can have that kind of power or visibility. Or if you’re in other lines of work in secular society, you’ll have those things come your way. So I think it’s a matter of how you deal with it, and that really comes back to one’s spiritual practice.

“[These] just happen to be the abilities that I have. [They’re] God-given. To that extent…it’s just giving glory to God, and we each do that in our own way. This just happens to be my way.”

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